Science  07 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5672, pp. 807

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  1. NSFSays Ocean Drilling Is #1

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Science Board surprised itself this week by successfully meeting an urgent congressional request to rank by importance the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) proposed large new research projects. At the top of the wish list: a ship for the restructured Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP).

    Last month Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) asked for help in “reprioritizing” the five projects already approved by the board but not yet under construction. Bond, who chairs the spending panel that oversees NSF's budget, worries that Congress may not have enough money to fund everything in the agency's 2005 request. So the board bit the bullet and, for the first time, offered a numerical ranking: IODP topped its list, followed by the National Ecological Observatory Network and the Rare Symmetry Violating Processes experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Rounding out the list were two projects slated for 2006: the Ocean Observatories Initiative, and the Alaska Regional Research Vessel. “We weren't sure we could do it,” says board member Daniel Simberloff, who coordinated the internal review.

    Bond may not like the results—his letter tells NSF to place more emphasis on the Arctic region. But aides say that the ranking will satisfy the senator's preference that the scientific community choose its priorities rather than letting politicians make the call.

  2. Spain Settles Stem Cell Fight

    BARCELONA—The battle over who will control Spain's first public stem cell bank is over. The nation's new Socialist leaders last week agreed with allied officials in the state of Andalusia to drop dueling lawsuits over the bank, which the previous conservative government had claimed violated an embryo research law (Science, 31 October 2003, p. 763).

    Now, national health minister Elena Salgado says officials will “start a wide and calm debate” over how to revise the law and regulate the bank. That is “fantastic news,” says Josep Egozcue, a cell biologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Fernando Marina, an embryologist at Barcelona's Cefer Clinic, says the previous government “sold” the law—which limits research to embryos stored at least 5 years—as “opening the doors to embryo research … which is absolutely false.”

  3. India Scholar Still On Trial

    NEW DELHI—Rejecting an apology, officials in the west Indian state of Maharashtra say they will continue to press charges against historian James Laine for fostering “communal tension.” A book by Laine, a religion scholar at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is blamed for inciting a mob of Hindu nationalists to ransack the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune (Science, 30 January, p. 623). Laine and his publisher have since apologized for the offending material—which questioned the lineage of the iconic Hindu warrior king Shivaji—and promised to remove it from future editions. In an affidavit, Laine says “there can be no historical basis to jokes.”

    Laine's lawyers have asked an Indian court to quash the charge, but Maharashtra counsel Shekhar Naphade says dropping it would “set a wrong precedent.” The dispute could be resolved by the Mumbai High Court later this year.

  4. Evolution Back in Italian Schools

    ROME—Bowing to protests from scientists, Italian officials have dropped a plan to stop teaching evolution in elementary and middle schools (Science, 30 April, p. 677). Education minister Letizia Moratti instead appointed one leading protester, Nobelist Rita Levi Montalcini of the Institute of Cell Biology in Rome, to lead a special panel to recommend guidelines for teaching evolution.

  5. Thai Aid for U.S. Scientists?

    The Thai Ministry of Public Health and the International AIDS Society say they'll scrounge for funds to help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—which has a research budget of more than $32 billion—send U.S. government scientists to a major AIDS conference. In a 3 May letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, conference organizers decry an HHS edict to limit to 50 the number of researchers, mostly from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who can attend the July meeting in Bangkok. That's down from 236 at the 2002 International AIDS meeting in Barcelona, Spain. The cut is reportedly a penalty for the heckling Thompson received in Barcelona (Science, 23 April, p. 499).

    “Please let us know if there is anything we can do … to help finance these researchers,” reads the letter from the two groups. The offer—to which Thompson has not yet replied—is one that “we ought to find a little embarrassing,” says Judy Auerbach of the American Foundation for AIDS Research in Washington, D.C.